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Two things that have nothing to do with one another!

Brian Hibbs

What could they be? Find out under the jump!

CHARLES BURNS X ED OUT GN: Well, there’s an apostrophe or two in that title, but Diamond’s database doesn’t play well with those (not that I bought it from Diamond, but there you are)

Charles Burns is, I think, one of our best working cartoonists — his line is as distinct as it is accomplished, and he knows how to weave suspense and tension in really amazing way. There’s nothing else that FEELS like a Charles Burns comic, in a way that exceedingly few of his contemporaries are able to achieve. Disturbing, off-kilter, askew — and I find that tremendously appealing.

I think that his previous major work, BLACK HOLE, was one of the seminal works of the late 20th century, and much of its strength came from the mining of teenage angst and alienation where I imagine that much of the vibe of that work would translate even if you were culturally distinct from the late 20c North American setting.

This new work tries, I think, to be more “international” in tone — the Tintin homages couldn’t be more clearer, and about a third of the work takes place in an unsettling alien (?) landscape that makes me think of Tunisia or something (or, at least, my perception of Tunisia filtered through Western movies, which I bet is NOTHING like the real Tunisia!). But either way, Burns remains a master of tone, and reading his comics always makes me feel like an unseen spider is scuttling up and down my spine.

If you like Burns’ previous work, you’ll love this, I have no doubt — I certainly did. Which is why it bugs me that I have to pan this based on price and format.

The first problem is that this isn’t a complete story — there’s a clear “to be continued” at the end of the book, and who knows exactly where or how it is going to continue? There’s no volume number on the book anywhere, and I can’t find anything on the web (including the B&T website, which has books as much as six months before they’ll appear in stores) to indicate that there IS going to be more. Even Pantheon’s solicitation copy doesn’t give a lot of insight:

“From the creator of Black Hole, the first volume of an epic masterpiece of graphic fiction in brilliant color! Doug is having a strange night. A weird buzzing noise on the other side of the wall has woken him up, and there, across the room, next to a huge hole torn out of the bricks, sits his beloved cat, Inky, who died years ago. What’s going on? Drawing inspiration from such diverse influences as Hergé and William Burroughs, Charles Burns has given us a dazzling spectral fever-dream – and a comic-book masterpiece.”

Heh, they used “masterpiece” twice!

But this makes it mostly sound like the work is self-contained, and it most assuredly is not. And that makes it an extremely frustrating work. I quite imagine that it will continue/complete at some point somewhere, but for someone picking this up “cold”, it isn’t anything like a satisfying read thanks to that “to be continued” there.

There’s another problem, too: it is 52 pages (albeit in oversized and in color) for twenty bucks. I know the creative costs are the largest expense in creating a new work (which is why Pantheon has mostly published comics work that’s been serialized elsewhere, I would imagine), but, ugh, nearly 39 cents a page for something that is a work-in-progress (and, more importantly: not self-contained within itself, or even “self contained”…) seems unforgivably expensive.

Don’t get me wrong: I loved what I read, I love his line and his tone and the pervasive sense of…oddness that permeates every page, but this is pretty close to double (or maybe more) of what this should really cost, especially for only a fragment of a story. When this comes out in a cheaper and complete SC format, I’ll be all over this, but this format and this pricing means that even I aren’t going to buy it for my personal bookshelf — and I pay wholesale!

For craft it’s an easy VERY GOOD; for pricing and format, it is pretty AWFUL.

(First week sales have been fairly solid — actually even a bit better than I initially expected, but I expect a certain amount of “Buyer’s Remorse” happening this week)

******

SUPERIOR #1 (of 6): Mark Millar is one weird cat. He wrote a long run of some of the best Superman stories I’ve ever read in “Superman Adventures” (wouldn’t it be nice if there was a full-sized trade of those out there? Just sayin’, DC), where he’s shown he can write “all ages” with the best of them, and he’s also written some of the filthiest comics of all time (a decade or so later, his “Authority” arc with Quitely still kind of creeps me out… and that was, or so I understand it, extremely toned down from the original intention)

So that makes SUPERIOR even that more jarring to me — here’s a story that would have been an excellent all-ages superhero thing (it even has wish-granting space monkeys!), but the impact and the potential audience is entirely gutted by the rampant and wholly uneeded cursing.

I have no real problem with profanity, in its place — KICK ASS becomes all the more amusing from the over-the-top swearing from its pubescent cast for instance, but the subject matter (and the specific cast) of SUPERIOR doesn’t seem to lend itself to the potty mouthing here. I could give you ONE, right there at the last beat, there’s an “Oh SHIT!” moment, sure, but the rest of it seems so completely unnecessary and out of tone from the rest of the comic, I really wonder what the fuck he’s thinking?

As I have to say to my newly seven-year old son, Ben, a lot these days, “swearing isn’t really big nor clever, little man” (he’s reached that wonderful age where the ABSOLUTE height of wit is “ballsack” and “dingleberry” and stuff like that)

What’s funny about Ben (if you’ll permit me to digress) is despite that he’s slightly puritanical when cursing appears in something. We’ve just finished the final Harry Potter book last night, and while I self edited a few times, when the text really supports it (I try hard to “stay in character”, as it were, when I read to him), I’ll let a “Hell” slip through (instead of “heck, y’know). “Did they REALLY say the “H” word, Daddy?”

Heh, and last night there’s the final battle in Hogwarts, and Molly Weasley screams at Belatrix Lestrange, “STAY AWAY FROM MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!”, and I rendered it as “B-word”, and Ben insisted I stop reading right there: “They said ‘B-Word’?” “Well, no, son, not exactly” “Let me see the book!” and he wouldn’t let me go on until he took the copy from my hand to see “bitch” spelled out (well, he knows how to SPELL it, already), and we had to delay the final battle to have a 10 minute conversation about the acceptability and context of using a word like that, where I think I left him pretty confused, actually, if I’m being honest.

As long as I’m digressing here, let’s go with one longer one: I like reading multi-book series with Ben. Like a whole lot. One of my favorite things to do in the whole wide world. We started with the Lemony Snicket “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books when I had a wild hair as he’s-an-older-four-year-old, and we’ve ventured into Oz [staggeringly archaic in a few of those books; and I totally lost the thread in the one where the Wizard returns to Oz. BOTH of us got completely bored about halfway through that one], and now Harry Potter. We’re going to take a break from multi-book series for the next week or two — I’m going to start “Harriet the Spy” tomorrow night, which I recall from my own childhood as being pretty awesome — and I might descend into Narnia after that, but I’m not so sure that those have the “acting and readability” I’m looking for. (for example: “The Hobbit”? Completely unreadable outloud — not enough dialogue driving the narrative, we never even got to a second night of reading it — which kind of surprised me)

So: anyone have any recommendations for multi-book YA or younger series that has a gripping story, and out-loud-readability and -acting opportunities for us to dive into? Ben likes stuff that’s scary, for sure [he does a better and creepier "Voldemort voice" than I do!], and he’s totally not into like kissing and stuff (making Harry Potter v6 a hard read for us), and I want something that uses good (and smart!) vocabulary, and trips off the tongue when you read it. You can say what you want about Potter, but JK Rowling writes good reading-out-loud prose.

(I just wish Ron and Hermione had had really ANYthing to do in the last half of the last book, whatsoever)

Anyway, digression done: I liked SUPERIOR pretty well, but I think the blue language cut off 3/4 of the audience that would really REALLY like it, while being too simplistic and silly for the cats who like KICK-ASS and NEMESIS. I’ll give it an OKAY, but I would have happily given it a GOOD or better with a little more self-editing on the swearing front. I don’t think it needed the @#$% school or the Milestone-Squiggle either; the swearing was just entirely out of place for this reader, in this story.

As always: What did YOU think?

-B

31 Responses to “ Two things that have nothing to do with one another! ”

  1. X’ed Out is going to be 3 volumes, I believe.

  2. The Time Warp Trio
    Diary of a Wimpy Kid (I teach in an elementary school and the kids LOVE these things)
    The Spiderwick Chronicles
    Percy Jackson

  3. For Ben, I’d suggest “The Prydain Chronicles” by Lloyd Alexander. I read them with my daughter a couple of years ago (she’s ten now) and she really loved them. Great storyline… minimum of romance, lots of interesting characters and voices.

  4. Burns says it’s vol. 1 of 3, and that the series won’t be collected, so as to reflect its Tintin roots: http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2010/10/this-is-charles-burns-this-is-charles-burns-on-tintin-any-questions/

  5. Also, I ABSOLUTELY second the recommendation for the Prydain Chronicles.

  6. The Prydian Chronicles rock. They’re absolutely made for reading aloud.

    kdb

  7. My son, who is nine, says Barry Lyga’s Archvillain is the best book ever. He is a smart kid.

  8. I will second Percy Jacson. After SHOWCASE, they are the books my kids can’t get enough of.

    HIVE (Higher Institute of Villainous Education) is Percy Jackson with super-spies. All the Bond, none of the Babes.

    Artemis Fowl has all the adventure and less romance, since the protagonist – not hero – is younger.

    Evil Genius, and the followups Genius Squad and Genius War, are also good. But they are more mature. Not “romance”, but actually considering the consequences of your actions, and sometimes doing “the wrong thing”.

    (Really, it is not just me. Half the YA titles out there center around anti-heroes or children in the employ of proudly EVIL villains. I would wonder about the future, except that my generation grew up on “Friday the 13th”…)

  9. The price, and the fact it’s not complete kept me away from the Burns book, and I love Burns.
    I was a bit burned by that format with Seth’s Clyde Fans.
    I got the first volume collecting it a year ago, and I believe it was out a year or so before that – I didn’t enjoy it as much as his other works, and yet it still looks like it will be years until it’s complete.
    (I got the next issue of Palookaville serializing the story online, #16, and it came out years ago, yet in the recent Palookaville #20, the story is still going, yet to be concluded).

    I’m not sure about ongoing fiction, I enjoyed Narnia a year or two older than Ben is, but at his age, my mother used to read me the Roald Dahl books.
    They are a bit dated, and though there is no swearing or sexy business, plenty of beheadings and horrible things happening to horrible people, and good laughs throughout.

    I’ve not read any Harry Potter book, though I hear they got darker as it went on, but I bet it doesn’t even come close to the darkness Dahl gets, whilst still remaining all ages.
    His book about magic, Witches, ends with the main child who fought the witches getting used to his new life stuck in a mouses body (and with a mouses life span).
    I still don’t think I’ve read a black comedy as dark as The Twits, yet I laughed the whole way through it as a kid.

  10. I always enjoy hear what you’re reading with Ben. My son Sam is a year older and we’ve read many of the same books. They seem to have similar tastes and I’m guessing Ben is an above average reader too.

    Let me third (or fourth) Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. Getting to read Gurgi alone will make it worth it.

    Sam also liked the Percy Jackson series.

    He’s also liked two series by Cornelie Funke. The Inkheart books which he read most of (I found it a little slow myself) and the ones about ghost hunting. The idea of the book is there are very specific types of ghosts which is fun to do the voices for.

    Let us know if you find something else good.

    Oh, and allow me to disagree about The Hobbit. Sam started it this week and (while he annoyingly keeps reading ahead on his own) the first chapter, the Gollum Riddle Game and the Spiders are great to read aloud (and I think Smaug will be too.) I do think Sam is a little young for it, so maybe it will grow on Ben in a year or two.

    Best,

    Rich larson

  11. “wouldn’t it be nice if there was a full-sized trade of those out there? Just sayin’, DC”

    I’d settle for them digests being in print!

    I recently brought and loved the heck out of the 2nd and 3rd volume, but had to settle for a second hand, really beat up, copy of the first volume as it’s out of print.
    If only Millar had gotten big off of this work, and not his later decompressed and (laughably called) mature readers work, Superheroes as a whole would be much more fun.

  12. Ben:

    Actually, my Ben’s 2nd grade teacher has actually been reading “The Witches” to the class the last few months; and I’ve read both of the “Charlie” books and “James and the Giant Peach” to him myself.

    By the end of the HP series at least 10% of the “supporting” cast has been murdered (not merely killed), including one of the major, primary characters, which is pretty darkity-dark, IMO.

    Thanks for the advice from all on the Prydain Chronicles — I’ll prioritize that next. Keep the suggestions coming though, folks!!

    -B

  13. “Actually, my Ben’s 2nd grade teacher has actually been reading “The Witches” to the class the last few months”

    That’s cool!
    I remember suggesting Mathilda to my 3rd grade teacher, who decided not to continue with it after a chapter as it went over most of the classes head.

  14. They may be a little old for him now, but you MIGHT try the Belgariad quintology, by David Eddings. Solid fantasy stuff with good dialog and a compelling story.

  15. I was waaaaaay underwhelmed with Burns’ new book and I’ve loved all of his other work (and my disappointment wasn’t just with the length and non ending). I did enjoy the new Palookaville, and think it’s a good value for the money (with a lot of content), but it doesn’t work as a stand alone graphic novel.

  16. “I remember suggesting Mathilda to my 3rd grade teacher, who decided not to continue with it after a chapter as it went over most of the classes head.”

    What?? Roald Dahl was *made* for reading to 3rd graders. Heck I read most of his books to my 2nd graders and they loved them.

  17. I don’t know where you get “self contained” from “the first volume of an epic masterpiece” I get “there’s more to come.”

  18. But this makes it mostly sound like the work is self-contained, and it most assuredly is not.

    Eh? The blurb you quote from says “the first volume of” in the first line…

  19. I really enjoyed going through the old “Pick-a-path-to-adventure” or “which-way?” books with my kids. After reading a short passage, you make a decision as if you were the character in the story, and then turn to the appropriate page to see the outcome and the next decision tree. When the choices were presented, I would have my kids try to anticipate good and bad outcomes. It was a great way to teach critical thinking and planning skills.

  20. SCOTT PILGRIM v1 is “the first volume of”, and it’s reasonably self-contained…

    -B

  21. Since everyone else has already mentioned the Prydain Chronicles (which I just finished reading with my 7-year-old to great success), I’ll put in for Susan Cooper’s 5-book The Dark is Rising sequence. A little more stately, but very well done.

    Away from all the magic kingdoms, Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series about English kids’ nautical adventures is wonderful, and Beverly Cleary’s Henry Huggins/Ramona Quimby universe is utterly charming and loaded with acting opportunities.

  22. I second Swallows and Amazons,

    Also, hard to find, but the “Robber Hotzenplotz” series is fantastic for kids.

    Possibly the ‘Three Investigators’ series, although they may be better for him to read for himself when older.

  23. “They may be a little old for him now, but you MIGHT try the Belgariad quintology, by David Eddings. Solid fantasy stuff with good dialog and a compelling story.”

    I was tempted to suggest that, but I think it works better at around 12/13, when a kids reading for themselves.
    That’s based on my own experience though – there’s a lot of will they/won’t they in terms of characters hooking up that adds flavour to the story, that younger kids might not enjoy.

  24. Discworld! Discworld! Discworld! Start Ben off with the Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, and then, if you feel up to handling Nac Mac Feegle accents (CRIVENS!), go to the Tiffany Aching series. Both are marketed to young adult readers.

  25. So it follows then that because Scott Pilgrim vol 1 is reasonably self contained all such first volumes must be that way? You can like or not like the format, but you’re not playing fair to apply a standard that exists only within your own view of things.

  26. Brian,

    Firstly, let me echo Michael Purdy: The Discworld books for kids are absolutely fantastic. Pratchett does not talk down to the readers, but drags them up and along on fantastic philosophical adventures full of fun and funny, blue men. Definitely start with The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents then prepare your best Scottish accent for the Tiffany Aching/Wee Free Men books. You and Ben will have a blast reading those.

    Secondly, the Percy Jackson books are what Harry Potter wanted to be. They’re full of action and adventure, great characters, fantastic settings and set in the — mostly — real world. Even better, the author just published the first book in a new series set in the Percy Jackson world. Great, great stuff.

    The Time Warp Trio books by Jon Sciezca (sp?) are just right for reading together and then passing along to Ben for him to read alone. Silly adventures in time with some very likable heroes. It’s also nicely illustrated.

    Those should get you started off right.

  27. It’s not really a kid’s book SERIES but my favorite kid’s book was/is The Westing Game. I’m hoping whoever had the good sense to hire Hope Larson to do a Wrinkle in Time will hire her to do that book next.

    I doubt that helps. The only kid’s books series I can remember are the Lloyd Alexander books, the A.I. Gang (which appealed to my whole computer nerd thing back then), and the Great Brain books (which were GREAT though I don’t know how they’d age being set in, like, rural Utah or something…? Loved those– little grifter kid in Utah, ripping dudes off using his intellect). I don’t remember what was or wasn’t age appropriate too well though. Oh, and of course, Encyclopedia Brown and what have you.

    I kind of wish I’d gotten into Nancy Drew as a kid more. I like anything with a mystery, and that Nancy Drew franchise is just so well-tended– Nancy Drew’s sort of become this last bastion of old-school point & click adventure games (not counting the Time Gentlemen stuff, the post-AGS stuff)…

  28. Though wow– looking at the Great Brain’s wikipedia page– that sounds like it’s for older readers. Somehow, I didn’t remember that a large amount of the plot of the first Great Brain book involved a dead Jewish man(???). So… yeah.

  29. I second Swallows and Amazons,

    Also, hard to find, but the “Robber Hotzenplotz” series is fantastic for kids.

    Possibly the ‘Three Investigators’ series, although they may be better for him to read for himself when older.

  30. My favorite book at 8 years old was Bunnicula, about a dog & cat who have suspicions about their owner’s new rabbit and a few juice-drained carrots.

    I LOVED the Westing Game when I was a kid – I think I read it at age 10.

  31. Totally recommend “The Warriors” series. It’s about cats living in clans and fighting each other, along with dogs and ‘two legs’. It’s a juinor sized fantasy novel. There are 18 or so books and my kids devoured them.

    There’s also the “How to train your dragon” books. Then you can read the book, watch the dreamworks movie, and do the old compare/contrast trick.

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